How to get into ESA BIC

So, you have an idea for a space product or you are working on a space startup. And now you want to move it further. Good way to go is to get incubated by ESA BIC (European Space Agency Business Incubation Center). But, getting there requires you to do some work. You have to describe your idea and to show that it is worth supporting. What are the best steps to take? What you should pay attention to?

1. First thing you need is a space-related idea

Your idea has to be connected with space. Your product or service does not necessarily have to happen in space, but it needs to use either a space technology, satellite data or geolocation. So, you can design a new space rocket but also a service that will automatically identify forest fires based on satellite data.
Where to get such an idea when you don’t have one? Browse space startups, look at available technologies, go to networking events, go to a hackathon. There are quite a few options. Just be active and something will happen.

2. Work a bit on your idea, so you can show it

Before showing your idea to bigger audience, give it a bit of thought.
Find answers to these questions:
What is your solution?
How is it connected to space?
What problem is it solving?
Who are the customers whose problem is solved?
Would they pay for it? Why?
Would you be able to make profit? (would you get the money and cover costs?)
What are the next steps you should do?

Go after simple answers. Do not look for difficult and totally elaborate answer, but give the questions a thought. 

3. Get in touch with your local ESA BIC

There are ESA BIC’s located in many countries. Here is the list of them. Get in touch with the one closest to you. They would be happy to talk to you about your idea and they will give you a very good feedback.
If there is no ESA BIC in your country, look for countries around. But look out, you would have to move your startup to the country where the ESA BIC is.

4. Try to find future customer

Evaluating your idea with a possible customer is a very important thing. Do it early. Identify possible customers, get in touch with them. Talk with them about your idea and find out more about the problem it is solving for them.

5. Wait for the call and go for it 

ESA BIC’s have a permanent open call for applications. But they evaluate applications on a regular basis. Wait when there will be a deadline set and decide to go for it.
Tell your local ESA BIC, that you are applying and ask if they will take a look on your application. Agree on a date when you will send them draft documents for review.  

6. Involve your future customer

Having a statement from a possible customer, that he finds your idea interesting and is willing to use it, or even better, to pay for it, would help you significantly. Try to get it! It can take different forms, one of the most used is Letter of Intent.

7. Get all the documents you will need to fill in

Get all the documentation you will need to fill. The documentation is different for each country. Find the one relevant for you on your local ESA BIC website. For example, the documentation for Czech Republic involves Cover letter, Business plan, Incubation proposal, Draft contracts and other administrative documentation. Get it all and find out what you need to fill in. Business plan concerns your business idea as such. Incubation proposal will tell what you plan to achieve during incubation in ESA BIC and how do you plan to do it.

8. Draft the first info fast 

The documentation is rather long. Best way to approach it is not to be afraid and draft the first information fast and dirty. You will use information from before when you were thinking about your idea. Aim to have the first information in all the fields in 2 weeks (1 week).
Set regular meetings with your team.
Ask ESA BIC when you have questions.
Look at the draft contract. Look whether you are eligible for getting into ESA BIC and what are the conditions when accepted. 

9. Improve the documents 

Improve the documents. Share them with ESA BIC. Get feedback. Improve. Share. Improve.
Track the progress. Set your goals. 

10. Submit everything

Have the documents ready at least a day before the deadline.
Send all the necessary documents. Look for the number of pages. Look for special needs like sending document in .docx and pdf format, or sending them physically. Do everything as needed. 

11. Prepare for the pitch

You will pitch (present) your application in front of the jury composed of investors, startup consultants and relevant stakeholders. This is very important step in the process. It may have even bigger weight than then the documentation sent. The pitching usually happens few weeks after the deadline for submission.
Simple tips for creating the pitch:
You have the information in your documentation. Use it.
Say very simply what your product is (one slide, few words)
State the problem
Explain your solution
Say why you should succeed
Show what are you going to do next

Amazing video from Y Combinator with advice for creating the perfect pitch 

12. Present the pitch and wait for the results

Be sure to train the presentation. It is good to learn the beginning, end and transition between the slides almost by hearth. You are telling a story, so know how the story goes yourself.
While presenting the pitch, be sure to do it in the dedicated timeslot. You will have 15 minutes for presenting and you have to make it in it. After the presentation a 15 minutes block with questions from the jury will follow. There will be someone from ESA so be prepared for technical questions. The jury will also ask business related questions. It’s useful to have backup slides with things that didn’t fit in your presentation prepared.
Then wait for the results. It usually takes between 10 days to 1 month to get the decision. 

Thanks to Marek from Zaitra for the help with the article.

If you have questions or need help with the application, feel free to get in touch